Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

Why Isn’t He Helping?

Morela incubating eggs, 21 May 2020, 6:24a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

22 May 2020

Many who watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam feel bad that Morela is incubating her eggs alone. Why isn’t one of her suitors, Terzo or Ecco, helping her incubate?

A clue comes from the answer to this question: What makes an an active raptor like a peregrine falcon want to stay immobile on eggs for more than a month?

Similar to us humans, the breeding season in birds is governed by hormones. Luteinizing hormones prompt testosterone production in males and progesterone (egg formation) in females. Then, as described in the Raptor Resource Project Blog

Shortly before incubation, female birds (and male birds that share incubation duties) experience another big hormonal change. Prolactin, a hormone which promotes incubation in birds, rises sharply while other hormones decrease. Opioid peptides stimulate prolactin secretion, which may explain why even active birds become lethargic while incubating their eggs.

What Makes Birds Incubate, Raptor Resource Project Blog

Morela is an active peregrine but after she laid her second egg her incubation hormones kicked in and she slowed way down. In this Day in a Minute video from 18 May 2020 you see her lying flat and often asleep on the eggs. Ecco arrived at 6:38pm, photo below.

Ecco sometimes approaches the eggs as if he’ll incubate but mostly he’s in courtship mode (see this 13 minute video). On Tuesday morning before dawn (19 May 2020) he came to the nest and greeted Morela. When she left he approached the eggs, but didn’t incubate.

It appears that Ecco knows what to do but is unable to begin. I suspect his incubation hormones have not kicked in.

Morela will stop incubating when her prolactin shuts off. Meanwhile she’ll spend time away from the eggs on a daily basis, “stretching her legs.” Without steady incubation the eggs won’t survive.

(photos and videos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine Chicks Downtown

Dori feeding chicks, male watching, 18 May 2020 (photo by Lori Maggio)

19 May 2020

The only way to see into the Downtown peregrine nest on Third Avenue is to observe it from Mt. Washington. Yesterday Lori Maggio took long range photos from the overlook and saw Dori, some chicks and Dori’s mate!

Here are her photos and observations:

I looked this afternoon between 1:30 and 2 pm and saw both Dori and the male in the nest and what I believe was Dori feeding the chick(s). When I first got up there I could only see Dori and what I believe a chick under her.  When I looked a few minutes later I saw both adults.  He was standing at the opening of the nest and it appeared as though Dori was feeding the chick(s). I imagine he brought the prey to her.  After a few minutes in the nest he flew out.  So it appears that she and her mate are raising at least one chick.  I have included some pictures and one of what the nest site looks like empty so you can compare.

— email from Lori Maggio, 18 May 2020

For comparison, here’s the nest site at other times of year when there are no peregrines nesting in it.

COMPARISON PHOTO: Downtown nest site outside the nesting season (photo by Lori Maggio)
Dori and chick in Downtown nest, 18 May 2020 (photo by Lori Maggio) … Dori’s back is to the camera. Her mate has not arrived yet.
Dori feeding chicks, male watching, 18 May 2020 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Dori feeding chicks, male watching, 18 May 2020 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Dori feeding chicks, male watching, 18 May 2020 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Yay! There are peregrine chicks Downtown!

Thank you, Lori, for the photos.

(photos by Lori Maggio)

No Mate In Sight

Morela with eggs, calling from the nest, 17 May 2020, 18:15 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

18 May 2020

Yesterday at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, Morela incubated her eggs most of the time but took breaks in the morning and afternoon. This timelapse video gives you an idea of much time she spent on the eggs.

At 9:03am Morela stood up and bowed to an unseen male peregrine who was out of camera view. He never came down to the nest.

Morela bows to a male peregrine who is off camera, 17 May 2020, 9:03am

In the 6 o’clock hour Morela called but neither Terzo nor Ecco showed up.

Incubation was intermittent and no mate arrived to help. With this sort of treatment, Morela’s eggs are not going to hatch.

(photos and videos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Likely To Hatch?

17 May 2020

Everyone was surprised when Morela laid a second egg yesterday at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest and appeared to start incubation. It was a week since she laid her first egg and it’s unclear if either male, Terzo or Ecco, will assist in incubation. Are the eggs likely to hatch?

Fertile eggs will hatch if they are kept at the right temperature — constantly — for the right amount of time. Once the eggs’ temperature is raised by the skin (brood patch) of the parents laid against the shell, the embryo starts to develop into a chick. If the temperature is not constant or it does not last for the right number of days the developing embryo dies.

Delaying the start of incubation is a normal strategy for many species. Ducks, shorebirds and peregrine falcons wait to start incubation until the clutch is (nearly) complete. This is not harmful to the early eggs as long as they are kept from freezing and moisture.

However, once incubation starts it must not stop until the job is done. Uncovering the eggs for more than a few minutes, depending on outside temperature, is fatal because the developing embryo is too far along.

So when Morela appeared to incubate for several hours yesterday (see video) and then stopped overnight, the chances for her eggs dimmed.

The real test will be whether her incubation efforts are constant and whether Terzo or Ecco help her. It takes a pair of peregrines to raise a family. If no male helps incubate, the eggs won’t make it.

Read more about how eggs develop in this vintage article: Incubation Chamber.

(photos and videos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Morela Laid a Second Egg

Morela with 2 eggs, 16 May 2020, 14:58 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

16 May 2020:

At 2:15pm today Morela laid a second egg at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. It’s been a week since she laid the first egg on 9 May so this is quite surprising. Peregrine falcons normally lay eggs about 2-3 days apart.

This five minute video captures the moment she laid the second egg, though it’s hard to see it.

Soon, Morela appeared to start incubation. She deepened the scrape, positioned herself over the eggs and jogged her body so her belly feathers could fall away from her brood patch. Then she laid flat on the eggs.

This activity was short lived, however. By 4:15pm she had left the nest.

Two eggs at the Cathedral of Learning nest , 16 May 2020, 16:18

Who knows what will happen next. If she incubates the eggs will a male assist her? And if so, will it be Terzo or Ecco?

(photos and videos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

More Time With Morela

Ecco bows with Morela, 13 May 2020, 13:20 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Since his arrival at the Cathedral of Learning in late February, Ecco has always spent more time on camera with Morela than the resident male peregrine Terzo. Whenever they’re at the nest, Morela and Ecco court and bow for 3 to 8 minutes while Terzo visits for 15 seconds if we see him at all.

Ecco usually has to be persuaded to visit the nest, but on Wednesday 13 May he initiated courtship that lasted nearly three minutes.

It appears that Terzo is fading into the background while Ecco is becoming more established.

Too bad Terzo and Ecco didn’t sort this out in February!

(photo and video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Wood Thrushes Prepare To Nest

Wood thrush, May 2020 (photo by Steve Gosser)

One of the joys of birding in Schenley Park this month has been the sight and sound of wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina). They arrived in force on 29 April and sorted out their territories in less than a week.

On a sunset walk on 4 May I heard seven of them singing, equally spaced along the Panther Hollow watershed. The other birds fell silent at dusk but the wood thrushes sang even more beautifully than during the day.

Among them is a wood thrush with a unique down-note that makes his song recognizable as an individual. Listen for it in my recording at 14 and 26 seconds.

Wood thrush at dusk, Schenley Park, 4 May 2020 (recording by Kate St. John)

Yesterday I paused in his territory and watched him foraging with his mate among the fallen logs and leaves. He was quick to warn when he saw dog walkers approaching (“WAP WAP”). The dogs are worthy of alarm but not us humans. He may change his mind about us when his lady is on eggs.

Soon the pair will build a nest in a period of 3-6 days. I haven’t seen them carrying nesting material yet, but they may have delayed construction while they wait for warmer weather and fully developed leaves.

Two to three days after the nest is complete she will lay 3-4 eggs, one per day, and hatch the clutch about 12 days later.

If all goes well I may see their fledglings in mid June.

(photo by Steve Gosser, recording by Kate St. John)

Excuse Me While I Check The Sky

Ecco, distracted, scans the sky while Morela waits to bow with him, 10 May 2020 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

13 May 2020

Since late February two male peregrines, Terzo and Ecco, have been vying for the Cathedral of Learning and Morela’s attention. When she finally laid an egg in the wee hours of 10 May we were — and still are — full of questions: Who’s the father? Are both males still present? Will Morela lay another egg? Will this egg hatch?

The video below of Morela and Ecco on Sunday 10 May, 1:18p, provides a few answers. In it, Morela encourages Ecco to come bow with her at the nest. He joins her and bows but is obviously distracted and warily watches the sky. Morela tries to attract his attention. They exchange a glance. She gives up and leaves.

In the clip you can see that Morela’s crop is full. Since she’s bowing with Ecco just after eating, my guess is that he provided the food.

Ecco is really distracted and appears to be looking for a rival, not for a predator that threatens the nest. Terzo shows up 20 minutes later (1:38p-1:43p).

Will Morela lay another egg? I doubt it. She has passed the 2-3 day window when a new egg should appear. More importantly, egg production depends on the amount of attention she receives from her mate and she needs a lot of it. Ecco and Terzo are too busy to pay attention.

Will this egg hatch? No. It takes two dedicated peregrines to incubate the eggs and raise the chicks. Without a male taking his part in incubation, the egg will not to hatch. Morela knows the males are too distracted.

“Excuse me, my dear, while I check the sky.”

(photo and video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

News of Other Nests

Peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge, 10 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

While “Who’s the father?” soap opera unfolds at the Pitt peregrine nest, other sites are raising chicks. Here’s the news from other peregrine families in the Pittsburgh area.

Westinghouse Bridge:

When Dana Nesiti brings his camera to the Westinghouse Bridge, he hopes to capture the kind of peregrine action he saw on Sunday 10 May. The male brought food to the nest from a nearby cache area. Then the female harassed a Cooper’s hawk in aerial combat. Here’s a slideshow of Dana’s photos.

  • Male peregrine perched near Westinghouse Bridge, 10 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Tarentum Bridge:

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, 2 June 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)
Tarentum Bridge as seen from , Allegheny River, 2 June 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

The peregrines nesting at the Tarentum Bridge have been bringing food to the nest for a couple of weeks though we can’t see the chicks. Yesterday, 11 May 2020, Susan Krause reported that a fluffy white chick appeared at the front of the nest. The chicks are walking! This means they’re at least two weeks old. They probably hatched around 27 April.

Tarentum Bridge shoing peregrine nestbox, 14 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Location of nestbox at Tarentum Bridge, 14 May 2018 (photo by John English)

Visit the Tarentum Boat Ramp for a good view of the nest area. To see the front of the nest, stop near the river access at the corner of Wood Street and East 1st Avenue or watch from Tarentum Riverview Memorial Park.

Downtown Pittsburgh:

Watchers needed at this site (photo by Kate St. John)

Because of the COVID-19 shutdown Lori Maggio has not been Downtown so she’s watching from Mt. Washington, though infrequently. On Sunday 10 May she may have seen some white blobs (chicks) in the nest without adults. This would mean the chicks are pretty big and old enough to thermo-regulate. Dori has historically hatched eggs between 19 April and 2 May so these chicks may be the same age or older than the ones at Tarentum. Lori will check later this week to see if they are more visible.

(photos by Dana Nesiti, John English and Kate St. John)

The New Guy Gets a Name

The new guy, Ecco, with Morela in the background in a photo from 12 March 2020

For almost three months I’ve been watching and writing about the new unbanded male peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning. He hasn’t won the site from Terzo but his presence has thrown the nesting season into a tail spin. I’ve called him “the new guy” but he’s not new anymore. And he’s still here. It’s time he got a name.

Our peregrine naming tradition in Pittsburgh means that I’m the one who names him (details here). It’s a difficult process and I’ve messed up in the past so I’ve been reluctant to go through this. I thought he’d go away, but here he is.

“Here he is” (Eccolo in Italian) inspired his name. His name is Ecco.

Ecco means “here” or “there” in Italian but is often used at the beginning of sentences to get them rolling as in “Well” or “OK” or even “Hey” as in “Hey, that’s what I thought too.” Here are three descriptions of ecco: Word Hippo, Colloquial Italian blog, Italian-English at Cambridge.org

The fact that Ecco is pronounced “echo” is also apt. This bird shows up repeatedly, like an echo, even after we thought he was gone.

So here is Ecco, calling, pondering and watching the sky, plus two videos so you can get to know him.

Ecco calls to Morela, “Come here,” 9 May 2020, 18:13
Ecco at the nest, 9 May 2020, 18:13

Ecco in a typical pose, scanning the sky.

Ecco in a typical pose, watching for Terzo (or Morela?) 9 May 2020, 18:14

Ecco’s first appearance on camera, 28 February 2020.

Ecco visits the nest and calls to Morela, 9 May 2020.

It’s convenient that both males have names now.

I don’t think Ecco is going away anytime soon. Nor will Terzo.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)